How to ensure your design portfolio is attracting clients

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When looking for work, the advantage we have as designers is the ability to actually show what kind of work we can do, rather than just trying to explain it on a resume. And just like presenting a resume, you want to make sure you put your best foot forward when it comes to showing your portfolio. I thought I’d pass along a few tips that have helped me in developing mine.

Make a web portfolio

A website that showcases your work is the easiest way to share your skills. You may have the most epic print design portfolio out there, but some potential clients won’t even want to schedule a meeting to look at it if they haven’t seen a sampling of your work online first. HTML newbie? There are plenty of great portfolio themes out there that are easy to set up, customize, and update.

Think about your domain name and how it reflects on your business. Try to get or if you have a separate company name, as each repetition of your brand name embeds it into the potential client’s memory. You may be really happy with, but unless you’re an actual slayer of dragons, finding it in search results or seeing it on a business card doesn’t really speak to what you can do as a designer.

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Take the time

The number one excuse for poor design portfolios I’ve heard from designers (myself included sometimes) is “I don’t have time to work on my portfolio.” True, we’re all busy and client work should take some precedence most of the time, but don’t sell yourself short on your number one piece of marketing. As a visual artist, leaving an impression on your potential clients is very important.

Make your design portfolio a portfolio piece

Your website is the first piece of work that a potential client is going to see, so it definitely works to your advantage if your personal site is a stunning example of your awesome work. If you’re a web designer, your web portfolio should be a great example of your skills and ideas, and most of all, it should WORK. Having a design portfolio site that only works sometimes, doesn’t load images correctly, or is otherwise buggy, won’t entice someone to hire you to design theirs.

Same goes for print designers–your print design portfolio should be a fine piece that you’re proud of, and one that reflects the finest qualities of your work. Don’t skimp on printing costs, be sure to print on high quality paper, and use a print/binding service that provides consistent good quality and color for when you need to add to it later. Keeping a few actual examples of finished, printed work on hand is helpful too.

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Show only your best work

Potential clients don’t want to (and probably won’t) wade through a bunch of old, mediocre work to get to the good stuff. Whether you’re walking them through your design portfolio in person, or they’re checking it out online, it’s better to wow them and leave them wanting more than wow them at first and then bore them with twenty more drawings of horses and your sketch pad from figure drawing class.

Show work that applies to the work you’re trying to get

As cool as those wire sculptures are that you crafted in high school, they won’t get you far in getting web design business. While diversity is good, if there is a style you don’t particularly enjoy working in, don’t show it. Clients with limited ideas will sometimes ask you to do your next project in “a similar style to [ABC Project]”. Only showing work that you’re happy with and enjoyed producing can help get you more work like it.

Keep it updated

If you’ve got something new to show, show it! A constantly-updated design portfolio shows a potential customer that you’re still working hard and not getting lazy.

Calling all freelance designers!

What tips do you have to add? Have there been strategies you’ve taken in showing your work that have worked well (or poorly)?

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  1. Since I’m still in the conceptual stage of my design name/business/look, I’ve uploaded my portfolio to – a creative portfolio website. It’s free, shows off my work well, and LinkedIn has a widget to show it in my profile.

    Ultimately I’d like to have that sweet business name, website, and business cards with an email from that domain as well, but I want to get it right, so this is my temporary fix.

    • @April,
      Good point–trying to change your brand later if you realize it’s not working can be more of a hassle than starting from scratch, so it definitely pays to plan ahead.

  2. I also recommend pushing yourself to create new work just for your portfolio. It’s probably the best way to learn new skills and show them off. It is also the hardest thing to find time for when you are contently busy. Stop by and check out my work, let me know what you think. I’m not the greatest but I’m always getting better. Great article!


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